Toxic Masculinity and Racism Challenged by Men Meet Will, a Trans Man (F to M)
Toxic Masculinity and Racism Challenged by Men
Meet Will, a Trans Man (Female to Male)
© 2018 Sherryl N Weston MA, MSW, LCSW (pending in CA)
Will just transitioned a few years ago and is still sorting out the messages of his childhood as a girl, along with the newer male identity issues. A caring and activist-minded person, he carries the queer community issues along with the remaining cultural identity and social justice issues. In appearance, he has been mistaken for Chicano. He is still learning about what might be relevant about his Japanese roots, for which he has had little exposure. With all of those in tow, he is gifting us with his unfinished journey through the myriad of factors left to resolve.
SW: In what years were you born/raised? Where are you from and what/who were the strongest influences on your male identity? Ethnicity?
WC: I was born in 1995, growing up in the late 90’s and early 2000s. I’m originally from central/south New Jersey, also known as the Pine Barrens. I come from people I like to refer to as the “northern hillbillies.” My strongest influence overall for my male identity was my dad, George, but other outside influences like pop stars & family friends also influenced me, friends at school, etc. My ethnicity is ¼ Japanese, and the rest is a mixture of different shades of white.
SW: Can you identify when you began to realize what was considered “too girly” or “weak?” Give one personal example.
WC: My dad was really into cooking & baking, and one of the major reasons I stayed away from learning those things for so long was because I was taught to see those things as girly. I was always afraid of doing things like that because I thought people would see me doing it and think “oh, that’s definitely a girl.” But I wasn’t.
SW: What do you think would be the best strategy for a father to influence his son to NOT follow the gender double standards and “notch on the belt/ conquer, then brag” sexual games that boys & men play?
WC: I think with these things it is very tough. Having had young children in my life for a few months now I see how young the gender divide starts. Obviously, we can’t communicate this situation with 3 year olds, thats why I think this conversation starts early, with making the gender divide less black and white from the start.
What I mean by this is, boys like blue and play with trucks, girls like pink and play with dolls. That way, when you move into the conversation of NOT following what others are doing, this isn’t a new concept to the child. One of the strategies my father used was television and movies. We would watch and pause and talk about what we were seeing. He’d ask me how I saw what was happening, what I thought was happening, what he knew was happening, why it was wrong or right, etc. Another good thing to do is to lead by example, when hanging out with other men around your son, show him how to defuse this kind of talk. Also, which probably goes without saying, teach your son that women are people, deserve respect, and again, lead by example.
SW: How comfortable are you with the way our society currently handles sexuality and expectations of cis-gender boys to men?
WC: I’m not comfortable at all with it. I think the way our society handles sexuality as a whole is garbage. It’s getting better in certain circles but overall its a disgrace. When I was first transitioning, it was difficult for me to find what it meant to be male, to be a man. You go to what you’ve been taught… dehumanize women, objectify them, demean them. You’re taught that if you’re not willing to do something stupid just to prove you can, you’re not really a man. You’re stuck between wanting to be a man, not feeling like a woman by any means necessary, and not feeling like you fall into either category.
I still to this day struggle with my sexuality because of what I’ve been taught. I’m queer, but when it comes to having sex with men, I constantly feel as though when I let a man inside me, I am less of a man because of it. I am violently reminded that I don’t have the parts I feel I should have and that the parts I do have are the only things that define my masculinity. I was taught that vaginas aren’t masculine and therefore because I have one I could never REALLY be a man. And this takes it’s toll on me.
SW: As the numerous accusers of sexual misconduct against male entertainment industry and political leaders come forward, how do you feel as a man? Do you feel any personal connection to what caused this environment and therefore somehow shamed? How common has such male attitude been in circles you have had experience in?
WC: I feel as though I’ve accepted the guilt for acts I’ve never committed. When I hear these things, I feel a deep sadness and a feeling that I need to change it, but I don’t know how. I feel as though women have every right to be afraid of me if we are walking on the street alone at night, even though I would never do anything to hurt them. The only thing I can do to show strangers that I’m not harmful is to not harm them.
At the same time, I’ll admit that I don’t always speak up when these types of attitudes are being shared. In the times that I don’t, it’s either because I feel unsafe, or I feel as though someone else should be held with the responsibility to say something. That is the only personal connection I could have, is that I don’t necessarily stop these things every time. These attitudes aren’t as common in my circles now as they used to be, but I also know that it’s a lot worse in circles I dare not travel with.
SW: If you were “the power in charge” and resources were no object, what will be the most effective action at this juncture, in terms of prevention and in holding other men accountable?
WC: I think putting a woman in charge would be a good start. More specifically, marginalized women & women who have experienced sexual assault would be the best choice. Women who have been sexually assaulted obviously have a unique perspective on this subject when it comes to how these things occur & the reasons why most men aren’t held accountable.
I say women who have been marginalized (outside of being marginalized because they were sexually assaulted) because marginalization also gives them a unique perspective on how power affects accountability. For example, people are most likely more willing to believe a white woman than woman of color. A man of color is more likely to be held accountable than a white man, and also punished more severely. All of these things come into play and its important that we take them into consideration. If we don’t, I would be afraid that white folk will end up with accountability that’s only worth 1/10 of what it should be because we didn’t consider how people of different shades are treated differently by society.
When it comes to prevention of these things, re-designing our sexual education in this country is a must. One of the things I don’t ever remember being taught in school was CONSENT. How to obtain it, why you need it, and what it looks like. But if men don’t respect women enough to even want it, there is no use teaching it. That’s when it goes back to influencing young people to respect women early so that when this discussion comes up there is no doubt that the respect is there. A steady foundation is needed in building anything, even consent.
SW: What is your personal strategy in presenting yourself as a feminist man? (Toward women and men) What are any disadvantages? How acceptable do you perceive yourself to be as an ally to women?
WC: I think the biggest part of my strategy, for the majority of the time, is sitting back and listening to what women have to say. It’s not really for me to take up space within a feminist space, but it’s important for people to know that anyone can be a feminist. I also think trans men in particular need space in feminism because a lot of us have seen both sides, experienced the world from both ends of the spectrum and even some of us were stuck in the in-between for awhile. It’s important that I amplify women’s words to other men, only because a lot of men refuse to listen to these issues unless they come from a man.
From the women in my life, I like to believe that I am a good ally because I am constantly checking to see if I still am a good one. I think it anything we do it’s important to never get into a mindset and think, “Well, I’ve learned everything there is to learn, I’m always right, I can do no better because I am the best.” We all fuck up, but it truly is important to me that the women in my life feel safe with me and feel that they can trust me.
AND-Will has a distinctly different issue, given that he’s trans:
I hate the fact that I have to dress a certain way in order for my maleness to be accepted, but I will say that is less so now that I have facial hair than it was before. That's why I am a lot more relaxed about it than I was when I was younger. When I was a kid, how I dressed, the toys I played with, the people I hung out with, etc, were all things that defined my gender. Nowadays, people see my facial hair and automatically know I'm a man. This should mean that I am comfortable wearing whatever, but I'm not, at least not right now. Maybe after I've gone through top surgery things will change. If I've learned anything with transition its that every step changes how you feel and how you perceive yourself.
SW: What specific issues do you feel the most pressure to improve on in your own self-development, relative to these questions? Where are your discomforts?
WC: I think that I have a tendency to focus on other people’s issues and I try to put their experience into words instead of my own. My biggest discomfort is talking about my own experiences when I was perceived as a female, during my transition, and how I tend to dissociate from my own struggles. I tend to overlook how I feel, how I’m treated, etc. I think it’s important to explore myself, identify walls I’ve put up, why I put them up, and to knock them down.
One thing about toxic masculinity is that if you are vulnerable, if you cry, then you are weak. And that is still my biggest struggle is being vulnerable with people. I don’t want them to see me as weak, I don’t want to be a burden.